Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave in the Age of Terror

Recent atrocities involving horrific bombings of innocent victims at the Boston Marathon certainly deserve the concern of the nation and the full scrutiny of the law enforcement professionals seeking answers to the who, what and why behind such a violent act of terror. This, coming on the heels of the awful massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, has put Rhode Islanders on full-time alert. Our state is sandwiched between two very recent acts of terror and has, itself, felt the shock of an incident at URI involving a highly inappropriate prank that could be categorized as an act of terrorism.

After all, what is terrorism? The most extreme incidents involve indiscriminate violence for the purpose of causing an equally extreme public reaction based on fear. However, if an individual rides the wave of others who caused actual harm, one need only whisper of the potential of such violence and he or she fans the embers of fear back to flames of terror. The individual who uttered something to the effect of, “I’m a good guy with a gun,” outside a URI door earlier this month was, in fact, committing an act of terror akin to yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Whether playing on the irony of the “good guy with a gun is the only means of stopping a bad guy with a gun” or actually intending to do harm to other humans, the public may never know. But this person, whoever he or she may be, is a terrorist.

Columbine High School, the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the Atlanta Olympic Bombings, the Twin Towers and now, the Boston Marathon – all acts of terror.

Even though in the case of the URI Whisperer the only evidence found by a lockdown and sweep by armed troopers was a toy NERF gun, the fear that spread from students to parents to media to public became frenzy. And that, unfortunately, indicates that the terrorists have been highly effective in accomplishing their super-objective. While their individual motives may have been different, the overall desire of these assholes has been the same: to stimulate fear and create distrust throughout society. They do it in the most cowardly way possible. And it works.

Is there an answer to combating the unknown? In other words, how do we as Americans respond to the threat of terror? The media often proves little help, as being first on the scene is often more important to fueling the 24-hour news cycle than being sensible and providing concrete answers to the public’s questions. I was receiving tweets about the “gunman on the URI campus” from various news sources long before any actual evidence was presented to back this statement up.

A common response was to put more security on campus. The immediate, reactionary, de facto response to these situations is “more guns equal less violence.” No. More guns equal more guns. Another common response is to blame a sub-genre of the American population — gangbangers, or Muslims or the mentally ill. So, in effect, we blame America for terror against America.

Perhaps immediate blame is the wrong reaction. Perhaps this creates an irrational collective mentality that falsely equates justice and vengeance. Action with bravery. Immediacy with thoughtfulness. Hammurabi’s code with Christian values.

In this editorial, I am not standing above the rest of the nation and speaking down as if I have the answers. Terrorism works because it catalyzes one of the most irrational emotional responses in the human psyche. That can not be minimized for its validity. My humble suggestion is to pause for consideration of who we, as Americans – as Rhode Islanders – wish to be. To truly deny the satisfaction of the assailants in such situations, mourning, praying, feeling and honoring the victims is natural and necessary. But then carrying on in spite of fear is the true disempowerment of terrorists and their agenda. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave and the anomalies are the cowards who perpetrate such acts of indiscriminate violence against the innocent – the terrorists.

This is no easy task, but the America that truly wishes to live up to its best potential must carry on as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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